How to Pick the Best Diagram for a Logic Game on the LSAT

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Summer is here, and it is full of decisions. Will you do your logic games at the beach or poolside? Will you re-apply sunscreen or get through this LG section on time? The LSAT’s logic games section is similarly full of important decisions. One of the most important is how you will diagram each game. To guide me through that process, I use a sort of “decision tree.” Here are the steps.

1. Decide if the game is a Grouping or Ordering game. The first fork in the road is a fairly straightforward one. Ask yourself, “Is this game asking me to put things in order, or is it asking me to put them in groups?” Let’s say, for example, that the game deals with an exhausted middle school teacher desperately awaiting summer break (not that I know any of those) and her class of unruly students. An ordering game might ask you to put those students one after another in line (good luck!). You will see rules like “Janie can’t stand next to Jose because she’ll pinch him” or “Tamara cannot be at the back of the line or you’ll never see her again”—rules that tell you what order elements go in, and which ones should be next to others.

What would a grouping game look like? Well, it would ask you to put the students into groups together (again, good luck!). Perhaps it will tell you that some of the students are going to watch a movie, while others are going to sign yearbooks. Or it might ask you to assign students to several different small groups for an end-of-the-year activity.Just keep in mind that Bri can’t be placed with Tony because they just broke up, or Andrea must be in a group with her two BFFs.

If it’s really your lucky day, you might need to do both! This is called a Hybrid game. It might ask you to put the students into groups together for a project, but then also determine what order the groups will present their project in.

1. Consider your diagramming options, big-picture. All right, we’re about to go a little  Choose Your Own Adventure here. Bear with me. If you….

a) Landed an Ordering game: Broadly speaking, there are two major diagrams you might select: a tree or a number line. Take a moment to look at the rules.

If they are all relative, you’ll just need a tree. For example, let’s say the game is about the order of your mega summer road trip to the West Coast. Maybe you’re not much of a planner, so you’re  just hitting the road with some loose geographical guidelines. You’ll go to Oklahoma before LA, New Orleans before Arizona, that sort of thing. In that case, you’ll just need a tree to get yourself started.

But if you’re more of a planner (Arizona must be the third stop; we must stop at the World’s Largest Ball of Twine immediately before we stop at the World’s Best Milkshake Shop), then you’ll need a number line.

b) Landed a Grouping game: Again, the good news is that you really only have two major diagrams to select from: an in/out chart or a board. Let’s say the game pertains to an upcoming family reunion. You might have a game that asks you to split the pool into two groups, who’s invited and who’s not (ouch!). In that case, you’d see rules like “If Great Grandma Laura is invited, then her ex-husband Great Grandpa Joe is not” or “If Susie is invited, then we must have the great pleasure of inviting all five of her quintuplets.” This type of game calls for an in/out chart, also known as a logic chain. Not sure what that is? Check out our Logic Games strategy guide.

On the other hand, perhaps your kind and inclusive family is inviting everyone, but you just need to know what tables they’ll sit at. In that case, there will be more than two groups, and the rules will help you decide who can or can’t be grouped together. For example, it might say “Anyone on Jenny’s side of the family cannot sit with anyone on Renee’s side of the family.” In this case, you need a board.

c) Landed a Hybrid Game: These games call for more flexibility, but you can often use a board to make it work. You just have to make sure that you’re also using ordering notation for your rules, and calling to mind ordering inferences.

1. Consider the nitty-gritty details. If you can choose the right big-picture diagram, you’ll be in pretty good shape to get started. However, top test-takers should also be very savvy with the details. Here are some decisions that you should be able to make quickly once you’ve selected your diagram type:

a) For a number line: Do I need a 3D number line? Do I need to add extra spaces for letters that will be left out!

b) For a conditional grouping game, aka an in/out chart: Is this open or closed conditional grouping?

c) For a board: Do I need to use boxes and slashes for open grouping? Do I need to label the rows for 3D grouping?

The important thing about this decision tree is that you really don’t want to choose the path less traveled by. So get comfortable with these decisions through practice and reflection! ?

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Allison Bell is a Manhattan Prep Instructor who lives in the Washington, DC metro area. Allison first encountered the LSAT while getting her Bachelor of Arts in English and History at Duke University. In college, she scored a 178 and very nearly applied to law school. In the end, she followed her true passion, teaching. Allison currently has the pleasure of being an eighth grade English teacher in Northern Virginia. As an LSAT teacher, she has the opportunity to blend her love for teaching with her passion for logical argument. Check out Allison’s upcoming LSAT Complete Courses here.